Alice called me at work today. A healthy 43 year-old, father of three, who lived with his family in an apartment two floors down from her just had a massive stroke. Now he can’t speak and the right side of his body is paralyzed.
“They didn’t have life or disability insurance. They don’t even have family here to help.”
Her voice faded as my louder, more insistent inner voice filled up all the space in my brain.
“It was stress that did that and you know who else has stress? Me!”
What kind of person makes some poor guy’s stroke all about her? See? Just one more thing to get stressed about.
I’ve been living with stress for so long, it’s become a full-blown disorder. I know this because my one and only hobby is diagnosing myself using online medical journals. This is a hobby I’ve had since I was 12 and my parents gave me a medical dictionary for Christmas (probably because it was big, educational and on sale). It only took a few weeks to diagnose myself with leprosy. No one took me seriously, especially not the community nurse who answered the medical phone hotline.
Even now, every time my doctor opens the examining room door and sees me perched in a paper robe, legs crossed expectantly, a look flits momentarily across his eyes. Like he’s not too excited to enter the room. For some reason. He’s been like this ever since I was on mat leave with my daughter and my husband dragged me into the clinic. I was crying so hysterically he had to explain to the receptionist why we were there.
I spent the first six months of my daughter’s life in a constant state of anxiety, pretty sure I was already screwing her up somehow. Some days, I would be too afraid and too exhausted of being afraid, to do anything but sit on the couch and binge watch daytime talk shows, with my tits hanging out. One day Oprah did a show about young mothers like me who had terminal cancer. At one point this very pretty woman, who actually looked a bit like I did when I used to sleep, started telling Oprah about all the symptoms of stomach cancer she’d been ignoring. A light went on in my head. That’s why I feel like a complete sack of shit. I’m dying of cancer.
I began to imagine having to say goodbye to my daughter. Her standing by my bedside, not understanding why I couldn’t cuddle and feed her.
My husband walked through the front door to find me clutching our daughter and weeping.
“I’ve got cancer.”
“Oh my God! Are you sure? What did the doctor say?”
I tried to explain about Oprah’s show, but my husband just grabbed me and threw me in the car.
We were both sitting on the examining table when the doctor came in and said, “Well the tests came back and you’re pregnant.”
“No no no no,” I said violently shaking my head. “I have cancer.”
So now my doctor is sure the only problem is that I’m mentally ill. When I’ve told him about how anxiety feels like I’ve got a hive of bees constantly buzzing in my body, he suggests an antidepressant or some Ativan, which I’m happy to take because Ativan is awesome. But I know this mental illness is more about alerting me to some things in my life that aren’t working for me. Just because nothing shows up in any of the blood tests doesn’t mean much, because I know there are physical repercussions to being a stress case and meds alone aren’t going to fix those things. Though I’m grateful for the space they’re creating in my head.
Here’s how the manifesting game has been working these days:
I’m walking down the street muttering to myself when I finally throw my hands up and say out loud.
“I need some fucking help here.”
I take maybe 10 steps and there in the gutter is a business card. It says, “Yaletown psychic.”
I cross the street and head down Homer and there’s a little placard, next to the one for Japanese chefs knives and a tea shop, which says “Yaletown Psychic.” That night, I get a Groupon alert. “Save 55% on a tarot or past life reading from Yaletown Psychic.”
I can never ignore so many signs in a row. So I call the number and make an appointment for next week. I imagine it’ll be like a good therapy session, but for $40 an hour instead the usual $175.
I’m hoping this is the Universe’s way of presenting ways to keep me alive to see my kids grow up. That phone call from Alice is just another sign I’ve got to take some action.
What have you diagnosed yourself with?